Fifa has launched legal action over the creation of a SFr500m ($563m) football museum in Zurich, alleging its former president Sepp Blatter was part of a “suspected criminal mismanagement” of the project.
Football’s global governing body announced on Tuesday that it filed a criminal complaint with prosecutors in Zurich related to the construction of the Fifa World Football Museum, which is housed in a building owned by insurance group Swiss Life.
The museum has suffered from lower than expected visitor numbers since opening four years ago. It lies a short distance from the Baur au Lac hotel, where several Fifa officials were arrested on corruption charges in 2015, sparking a scandal that led to the resignation of Mr Blatter and the prosecution of dozens of top football officials around the world.
The organisation, now led by Mr Blatter’s successor Gianni Infantino, said it had conducted a forensic audit into the museum’s creation, alleging Fifa’s former management “deliberately mismanaged” it in several ways.
Fifa added in a statement that the museum has caused “significant loss and damage . . . unnecessarily consuming vast sums of money that could and should have been used to support the development of football”.
The original project envisaged creating a Hall of Fame-style museum near its Zurich headquarters that it would own outright.
Instead, Fifa’s previous management agreed a 30-year deal to house the museum in a city-centre building owned by Swiss Life, which has a large real estate portfolio. Fifa now alleges the contract “locked [Fifa] into an above market rental agreement” worth SFr360m and runs until 2045. The body also spent a further SFr140m renovating the building.
The audit found its past management allegedly did not “seriously consider” a location beyond the Swiss Life-owned property, and misled other football officials about the cost and viability of the project. It also identified alleged conflicts of interests and nepotism of Fifa management involved in the museum.
Fifa is seeking to build a case that could recoup money from Swiss Life or force the company to reduce its rents, according to people familiar with the matter. The museum made just $3m of Fifa’s overall revenues of $766m in 2019.
Lorenz Erni, Mr Blatter's lawyer, said: "the allegations are baseless and are vehemently rejected."
Swiss Life did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
If the Zurich prosecutor launches an investigation based on Fifa’s complaint, it will be the latest effort to take criminal action against Mr Blatter, who is yet to face any charges relating to his 17-year reign at the organisation.
Swiss criminal proceedings are ongoing over a $2m payment made by Fifa in 2011 to Michel Platini, the former French football captain who ran Uefa, European football’s governing body — a transaction approved by Mr Blatter. Both men deny wrongdoing over the matter.
In April, Swiss authorities dropped part of their investigation into “aggravated criminal mismanagement” by Mr Blatter.
New investigations into Fifa continue to rock the organisation.
Earlier this month, a Swiss special prosecutor, Stefan Keller, recommended a criminal investigation into Mr Infantino for using a private jet from Suriname to Geneva. Fifa said Mr Keller’s statement was “malicious and defamatory”. Fifa’s ethics committee has closed its examination into the flight.
Mr Keller was appointed to investigate contacts between Mr Infantino and former Swiss attorney-general Michael Lauber, who resigned as the country’s most powerful law enforcement official following revelations the pair held secret and un-minuted meetings. The men deny wrongdoing over the meetings.
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